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In this review I will focus on the speakers, the 4th-generation Calliope 0.21 as they deserve a full feature all their own. The power conditioner was still a prototype in its final development stage and although its positive contribution was unquestionable, it still needed a few more refinements before its commercial debut. I’ll cover that when finalized. At the opposite end of the commercial cycle, the 300B SET integrated amplifier Ocellia lent me was the same Srajan heard in France and thus not representative of the latest productions benefiting from further design refinements. I thus won't spend much time on it specifically, only to describe significant differences between this amplifier and my First Watt F5 reference when it comes to interactions with the Calliope speakers. That said, a review comparing Ocellia's latest SET and push/pull amplifiers has already been penciled in for 2013. A face-to-face session teasing out topological differences when everything else is identical should be quite enlightening.

With introductions and customary statements wrapped, let's focus on the star of the day, Ocellia's Calliope .21 Twin Signature. An obvious first thing to say would be that this Ocellia speaker is built around the 21cm Silver PHY widebander coupled to a pair of PHY piezo tweeters per side, with the three drivers built into a beautiful wooden enclosure. But that's only the tip of the iceberg. As I found out over long conversations with Ocellia's owner and the principal actor behind the resurrection of PHY, these speakers represent the culmination of ten years of refinement to the initial concept which made enough of an improvement over the previous model to warrant a generational change in the product nomenclature. 2003 marked the first appearance of the Calliope 0.21 in the audio world. It is only fitting that 2013 would celebrate the first decade of the brand with the launch of a new flagship iteration.

PHY Haut-Parleurs went out of business a little over a year ago after the untimely passing of Bernard Salabert, founder of the firm and inventor/maker of these rare and unusual drivers. A PHY transducer is a thing of beauty, made of paper with natural rubber surround and massive bronze basket holding a no less impressive Alnico 5 magnet for high sensitivity and high impedance. It would have been a pity had such a unique creation evolved from French widebanders used in radio diffusion right after the Second World War disappeared to never be heard (of) again.

Samuel Furon and a number of partners decided to brave the almost inextricable French bankruptcy laws to return PHY to life, retain its employees and specialized tools whilst bringing production a little closer to the 21st century without sacrificing any of these hand-assembled jewels’ unique flavor. As I typed these words the PHY website was up and running again, once more offering PHY Haut-Parleurs transducers to companies and DIY enthusiasts alike. That alone is reason enough to celebrate. I think Salabert would be proud to see where his company is headed.

PHY transducers are not just used by Ocellia and a fringe of the DIY community. Auditorium 23 from Germany and Musical Affairs from The Netherlands have been strong early promoters of the brand and offered many open-baffle derivative models built around PHY drivers over the years. Understanding Auditorium 23's philosophy of speaker design is absolutely critical to by contrast distinguish Ocellia's current approach and there’s no better place than starting with Michael Lavorgna's 2007 review of their Solovox speaker. The best quote I could find to summarize Auditorium 23's design philosophy is this paragraph by Michael: "Again, the design follows the rationale that a loudspeaker housing is comparable to the corpus of an instrument; it should use rather than eliminate energies from the driver. Thus we carry on a tradition of reverberating housing concepts that Western Electric and Altec Lansing first formulated in the Fifties."

In other words, enclosure colorations applied properly rather than fought systematically can enhance the sound. This design philosophy is at the heart of Auditorium 23 speaker designs and represents one way to approach PHY drivers. Ocellia started out that way with their prior Kedros, Tilia and Celia models but have since evolved to no longer believing that the enclosure or any part of the design other than the driver should contribute in any way to the sound. They go to extremes to ensure that no coloration adds to or detracts from the natural beauty of the music. Hopefully the next few paragraphs will illustrate what extremes mean with somebody as obsessed with perfection as Samuel Furon.

Starting from the outside of the speaker, what may look like a regular plywood enclosure is actually built from sheets bonded together by Ocellia's own cabinet maker. When Samuel could not find a source of plywood that met his needs for physical properties, he assembled his own which is then shaped, bent and sized to fit the cabinet. A few other speaker manufacturers operate this way but they are all far bigger. On a minimalist scale, I know of no other speaker company which makes their own cabinet material.

The second characteristic not obvious in pictures is that no two sides of the Calliope .21 are parallel. The wave atop isn’t merely elegant, it’s obviously not parallel to the floor (all Calliope speakers have open bottoms and a back door we’ll get to later). The left and right sides are not parallel either as the front of the speaker is wider than its back. The same is true of the front and back panels. The bottom of the speaker is wider than its top. Until you pay close attention, the Calliope looks like a box with a wave on top. In reality it’s a far more complex faintly pyramidal construction, each dimension optimized to avoid standing waves whilst minimally affecting aesthetics and proportions. All this refinement would be impressive enough knowing that each cabinet is assembled by hand and that the left and right speakers are not identical but mirror-imaged of each other. But there’s a lot more once you take a look inside.